In a globalized world economy, goods and products are free to roam between markets and across borders with extensive impunity, providing consumers everywhere with far greater range of options in terms of quality and cost.
Oftentimes, however, reduced cost comes at the expense of quality – particularly for products that are sourced from low-cost manufacturing hubs whose chief competitive edge lies in pricing.
This is currently the case with the Australian market for locks and home protection devices, where more affordable products imported from abroad often fail to comply with local codes and requirements.
“Where building codes and standards have been aligned, markets are protected against the non-compliant alternative,” said Assa Abloy’s Andrew Williams. “However, the desire for material cost savings in construction or the lock service industries has seen this category grow substantially in the last decade or so for many applications.
“Whilst this has contributed to maintaining a degree of affordability, it has led to a number of compromises with respect to security, safety and convenience in the context of door locks and associated hardware.”
Williams noted that low-quality imported locks can also lack key features designed to enhance convenience of usage, resulting in heightened risk during home emergencies.
“The one thing we all want as end consumers of door locks is to know that in the event of a fire or similar emergency we can get out quickly and safely,” he said.
“It is for this reason Lockwood designs products with a trademark safety release function, whereby the internal lever or knob automatically unlocks on entry. This feature is absent in many products that are not designed for the specific requirements of the Australian market.”
Another issue with the Australian lock market is that key standards are not mandatory, meaning that consumers may be purchasing products whose security effectiveness is not on par with other options within the same price range.
“The Australian Standard for Locksets (aS4145.2-2008) details security criteria for a given lockset from a physical resistance-to-attack perspective, as well as to the degree the product resists surreptitious entry,” said Williams. “This is a voluntary standard and lock suppliers are not obliged to report their conformance levels to it – indeed most choose not to.
“The result is that many consumers would be unaware that the product that is protecting their property is providing drastically lower security performance than something that may only be marginally more expensive.”
Williams added that the creation of standards and criteria without compliance requirements not only weakens their impact, it can also have an effect opposite to that intended, spurring new entrants to target the low-quality, non-compliant niche.
“A number of Australian Standards cover considerations such as dignified access through doorways for people of differing abilities, the role of doorways in fire isolation systems, or just the inherent safety, security and resistance to corrosion of a given locking solution," he said.
“This in turn poses a number of challenges to suppliers in this market [and] means potential new entrants must choose either to develop products specific to market requirement and accept a higher cost base, or disregard specific market requirements and penetrate at a lower price point.”
In addition to diminishing the average quality of available products, low-cost imports are also severely hampering the business of local manufacturers who are doing the right thing and abiding by domestic codes and requirements.
“Whilst consumer sentiment may indicate a willingness to pay extra for Australian Made products, lower cost products have introduced price pressures all along the construction supply chain, that mean so often country of origin is not considered in the final purchase decision,” said Williams.
“We have seen first-hand the impact of low cost imports on local manufacturing - recent times have seen some traditional manufacturers cease local production, and those that remain invariably had to complement and redefine their local offerings with imported alternatives to respect the varying value points in the market.”